NCC Through the Years

The History of Northwest Iowa Community College

From “Iowa’s Community Colleges: A Collective History of Fifty Years of Accomplishments, 2015″

Size is not always the measure of success. Northwest Iowa Community College (NCC) is the most rural and the smallest community college in the state; however, it was also the first Iowa institution to become a community college and NCC leads the way in quality and completion. The innovation that led to being the first technical and the first area vocational school has led the college into many firsts. The history of the institution demonstrates a strong commitment to serving students, working with area business and industry, providing quality instruction, and being an educational leader.

NCC is located in the geographical center of its four and one-half county service area which is comprised of Lyon, O’Brien, Osceola, Sioux and half of Cherokee counties. This area is collectively known as Merged Area IV. According to the 2010 Census, NCC serves the 68,590 people who live in the region. Although just across the border in Sioux County, Sheldon (O’Brien County), population 5,188, is home to NCC’s campus and one of the three largest communities in the service area. 

The Mission Statement states “Northwest Iowa Community College is a progressive learning college rapidly responding to the global needs of our changing community.” This is a mature mission statement written and rewritten through fifty years of learning and growing into the institution that exists today. Recent state and national honors confirm the first rate education provided by NCC, and are an indicator of the unique commitment to excellence that is at the heart of the mission of the college.

  • Top 120 Best Community Colleges in the Nation (2011, 2013) and Top 150 Best Community Colleges in the Nation: Aspen Institute (2015).
  • 11th Best Community College in the Nation: (2013)
  • 15th in the Nation by Create a Career (2013)
  • Highest Graduation/Transfer Rate: (2013)
  • Great College to Work For: The Chronicle of Higher Education (2012, 2013, 2014)
  • Safest College in Iowa: (2013)
  • Top 4 in the Nation: Automotive Program: Tomorrow’s Tech 2013 School of the Year Contest
  • Seventh in the Nation for Graduate Success: CNN Money (2012)
  • Top 20 Fastest Growing Community Colleges in the Nation: Community College Week (2010)

1959-1966: The Vocational High School

Northwest Iowa Vocational School (NIVS) was first a pilot project by the Iowa Department of Education and school districts of former Merged Area IV, under the leadership of the Sheldon Community School District. The need for a ‘technical education’ for students of the region had been discussed for a long time. According to the Sheldon Mail in September of 1959, 51 farm and town leaders met in Rock Rapids to talk about the potential effects of expanded technical education for high school students that would prepare them for work. Between 1960 and 1964 the Sheldon newspaper, the Sheldon Mail, reported multiple discussions about the need for technical instruction offered locally. Area residents and potential students were surveyed, and the need for auto mechanics emerged as the program that was most desired by potential students. 

In June 1963, the first advisory council decided that Sheldon would be the best location for the school because the town is located in the center of the area. Financing became the next major concern. Before the advent of concurrent enrollment and supplemental weighting, the school districts had to find a way to finance the project. From the outset the high schools paid the tuition of the high school students enrolled at NIVS. In June 1963, Sheldon School Superintendent Ralph Borreson was informed by the Iowa Department of Instruction that federal funds were available to help start the vocational high school. It wouldn’t be until 1965 that the county school boards of O’Brien, Sioux, Osceola and Lyon counties voted to form a joint district that would have the power to levy a three-quarter mill tax for school buildings and a three-quarter mill tax for the operation of the school. The district would then also have the ability to issue building, or general obligation, bonds.

Charles E. Zink was hired to serve as the director for the project. Zink had previously served 22 years as head of the Technical Vocational Education in the Sioux City Schools. John Bensley was then hired as the first instructor for the auto mechanics program, followed by Charles Driggs. Later Larry Langel was added to the faculty for auto body and Stanley Hulstein was hired to teach welding. These instructors were required to be licensed as high school instructors, which presented challenges for hiring people to teach in the new school.

The area vocational high school was finally sanctioned, and the first day of class was January 27, 1964. During the period 1964-66, three vocational programs were offered to students from 19 high schools in Lyon, O’Brien, Osceola and Sioux counties. The first class of 49 students met in rented facilities around downtown Sheldon. The first programs were auto mechanics, auto body and fender repair, and welding. The demand for programming and the need to include programs more suited to female students led the high school to introduce office education as the fourth career option by the fall of 1965. An interesting dimension of the vocational high school was the delivery of programming to adult students who had not graduated from high school, or who wished to pursue additional training. The presence of non-traditional students nearly doubled the enrollment in 1964 and indicated that the concept was a good one. The real test would be the employability of the graduates. The guiding principle of the schools was to train area students, and that graduates would be able to find jobs in the area, and to retrain or upgrade the skills of people already working in manual skill occupations in the area. The NCC 2013 placement report indicates that 97% of graduates are employed or pursuing further education, with certain programs routinely boasting 100% placement. 

Enrollments in those first two years exceeded expectations. The first semester started with 49 enrollments, and the second semester had 99 students from all 19 school districts. All of the first graduating class (36 students) was from the auto mechanics program, and the graduation ceremony was held in the Sheldon City Park. As enrollments have continued to grow, the need for more space for graduation is evident. Today the 3-year old Lifelong Learning and Recreation Center barely holds the graduates and their families.

Partnerships were a hallmark of the institution from the beginning. The first industry donation was a new V-8 engine and automatic transmission from the Dueis Motor Company and the Ford Motor Company, which was valued at $1,000. Since that time businesses and industries who want to hire graduates have continually given time and resources to promote the work of the college. 

1966-1975: Becoming a Community College

In July 1965 the Iowa State Legislature enacted Senate File 550, a statute which permitted the formation of area schools. The advisory council of the technical high school prepared the paperwork and submitted an application to the State Board of Public Instruction. In January 1966 they approved the application of Northwest Iowa Vocational School (NIVS) to become a community college. A board of seven directors was elected on April 20, 1966, representing seven districts throughout the region. On April 27, 1966, the Northwest Iowa Vocational School was officially organized.

The organizational meeting minutes on this date outlined tasks to accomplish and future goals. It identified that future enrollment could be as much as 5,000 including high school students enrolled part time; high school drop-outs and post graduates; adults of all ages (night school, day school, summer school, short courses) and junior college students taking the first two years of a 4-year academic course. “In general, the advice was “Keep your sights high!” 

The original members of the board of trustees were P.J. Juffer of Ireton, Mervin Warner of Larchwood, Ray Hormel of Ocheyedan, Willis Petrich of Sanborn, Richard Schneider of Sheldon, Reynold Van Gelder of Alton, and John Bajema of Hull. Richard Schneider was elected as the first board president. In the early years of the college the board met frequently, generally twice a month. The minutes of the meetings reflect attention to details that are still common: policies, budgets, enrollments, personnel issues, planning, building needs, equipment needs, and tuition. The commitment of the first board members to the college is commendable, and their hard work provided a strong foundation for the future.

In September of 1966, the Board approved taking the three-quarter mill levy to voters at the regular school election, and then they began to discuss a permanent location for the college. They made a motion to negotiate the purchase of land on the west side of Sheldon, at no more than $800 per acre and to discuss with owners favorable terms for interest and length of contract.

By December of 1966, the purchase of the land was authorized with two payments of $21,155.00. The campus site plan was accepted and approved with an April 13, 1967, date set for construction bid. Ground breaking for the first college building (building D) took place on May 3, 1967. 

Through the period of 1968-1974, the college continued to grow rapidly. Unlike the community colleges that began as Junior Colleges, NCC has roots deep in technical instruction and that was the focus of program expansion between 1966 and 1975. By the spring of 1968 NIVS had 10 instructors and four administrators, with more being hired. This included a librarian/communications instructor and an adult education director. The college was growing in both enrollments and in offerings. At the end of this era, the college had 38 programs and enrolled more than 500 students each year. In 1973 work began to develop an Associate of Arts degree, which was approved to begin in 1975. Also in 1975, NIVS received accreditation from the North Central Association (NCA) to deliver diplomas and degrees. Respect for the college grew as graduates entered the workforce or went on to pursue 4-year degrees.


During this era two specialized technical programs were introduced to the catalog. These were not only firsts, but unique programs. In 1967 the first group of students entered the powerline program. This program was instituted with the support of rural electrical providers who needed properly trained linemen. The program has undergone many curricular changes, but essentially is a nine-month diploma program with the option of finishing a two-year degree. In 1974 another program unique to the college, and another first, was the heavy equipment program. Both of these programs provide students with quality hands-on training, and both programs provide assistance to the region when called upon to do so. Besides the projects regularly scheduled for these students, they also respond rapidly to communities in distress from flooding, tornadoes or other natural disasters.

Also during these years the college expanded the building infrastructure. In 1971 buildings B and C were built and housed the business and construction programs. These facilities were expanded in 1973, 1977, 1983 and 2002. 

1975-1999: Growth and Maturity

In 1975 the college changed its name to Northwest Iowa Technical College (NITC), a name that reflected both the roots of the college in vocational education, but also the new focus on college transfer curriculum. NITC began providing a limited arts and science program in 1975. This limited program offered courses in an evening college format to serve the needs of area residents, specifically veterans returning from Vietnam. After peak veteran enrollment passed, overall enrollment fell to a modest level, and the arts and sciences program was discontinued in 1980.

According to long-time college administrators Vern Schoeneman and Wayne Reed in an interview for this publication, watching the growth of the college has been exciting and fulfilling. There were many challenges along the way from trying to grow enrollments to finding ways to pay for expansion for those new enrollments. Changes in legislation and increased reporting also had significant impact on college operations. Their comments included discussions about accreditation. 

In 1988 the college again received permission from the Commission on Institutions of Higher Education and the Department of Education to offer programs leading to the Associate of Arts and Associate of Science degrees. On July 1, 1993, the name of the college was changed to Northwest Iowa Community College, which reflected the movement towards becoming a comprehensive community college.

In 1976 adjacent farmland was purchased, and this expanded the campus to 263 acres. The first student housing facility was added in 1992, and additional housing opened in 2007 and 2009. Along with this an emphasis on ‘college life’ began to emerge as a major focus for the institution. 

During this time the college also began to aggressively work to deliver programming to area high school students under the new Post-Secondary Educational Opportunities act (PSEO). The expansion was aided by the introduction of the Iowa Communications Network (ICN) classrooms in 1994. This allowed the college to deliver AA courses to high school students at a distance. Distance has always been a challenge for the college, particularly high school students. Other than Sheldon High School, which is located 1.5 miles from the college, the closest schools are approximately 20 minutes away and the farthest are more than an hour away. The ICN enabled students to take classes without leaving their high schools. Since 1994 the college has grown concurrent enrollments and has achieved the second highest percentage of penetration of the 15 community colleges. Currently high school enrollments account for approximately 33% of head count and up to 20% of credits taught.

Also at the same time, the work of the Continuing Education and Business and Industry training division grew and expanded its impact on the region. Consistently during this period NCC had enrollments of over 28,000 annually in programs that served the non-credit needs of the citizens of Area IV. Each year more than 1 in 3 people in the region took a non-credit course to improve their technical and professional skills or to participate in lifelong learning activities that are more recreational in focus. Area business and industry capitalize on education and training for their employees through workforce development programs. This tradition continues, and NCC has become a significant partner in improving the lives of people in the region through economic development and training.

1999-Present: Innovation, Information, Funding, Assessment, and Student Life

The small technical high school with enrollments of 49 students is now a comprehensive community college with a 2013-14 total enrollment of 2,631. The enrollments are spread pretty evenly between applied technology, college transfer and concurrent enrollment. Retention and graduation rates at the college are strong as indicated by the recognition received from CNN and College Measures. Online retention rates are also exceptionally high, which is a result of multiple factors including real-time analytics, invasive student advising, and well-trained faculty. The current student body is generally traditional aged (under 21) and is fairly evenly split between males and females. What is changing is the ethnic diversity of the institution, and that is expected to continue to change rapidly in the next decade. 

In the 21st century the definition of technology used by NCC expanded to include computerized instruction, internet capability, and software packages that allow the college to make real-time data-informed decisions. NCC has embraced this transformation and has leveraged resources to provide college staff and students with the resources of the 21st century.

Innovation:  Technology and Instruction

In 1999, NCC, along with six other Iowa community colleges, formed a partnership to organize the Iowa Community College Online Consortium (ICCOC) to provide quality online educational opportunities. The college’s partnership with the ICCOC has played a significant role in increasing the enrollments in the past decade, particularly in college parallel and concurrent enrollment courses. It is hard to measure the impact of online instruction on the college. However, in addition to increasing enrollments, it has also helped to transform teaching and learning at NCC. Today all courses at NCC are web-enhanced, and technology is integrated into all classroom instruction. The campus is wireless, and that extends out into the power line fields where instructors use mobile devices to keep track of student performance. Students at NCC expect access. This includes the internet,electronic textbooks, computers, information, and communication. 

Information:  Collection and Use

At the time of the 2004 accreditation visit from the HLC, NCC was deeply involved in implementing a new student information system – Colleague (Ellucian/Datatel). At that time it was evident that data was needed, but it was hard to imagine the world of data usage now being practiced at NCC. The college has managed to navigate this decade of digital transformation with equanimity, although not without frustration. Colleague went ‘live’ in 2005 and the process of moving towards using one data source for all reportable information began. Reporting out of Colleague is challenging and in 2009 an SQL database server was launched to assist in reporting. Today this is a primary source of information for decisions makers across the campus. The IT staff has a dedicated person to assist with data collection and reporting. Now the work is moving from reports to dashboards so that decisions can be made in a timely manner.

Besides the data from Colleague, the online courses are also using more data, from improved report processes from the LMS, and through the use of instructor dashboards. In 2011, the Iowa Community College Online Consortium (ICCOC) was awarded a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to build instructor dashboards to increase student success in key gatekeeper courses. NCC was a lead partner in the grant, and today all instructors have access to the dashboard which allows them to quickly see who is not succeeding and intervene in a timely manner. 

Enhanced communication of data and the desire to be transparent led to the development of both an extensive website and a robust portal. The college website provides the public with information about the programs offered, including the costs of the program and the employability of graduates. The portal, My Place, contains information for staff and students and provides access to the appropriate information for each group out of Colleague.

Funding:  Grants and the NCC Foundation

Since 1999 NCC has achieved significant success in obtaining and utilizing competitive grant funding to leverage college money to move the college forward. More than $11.2 million in additional money has been received to enable the college to expand services to students. In 2000 the college was awarded their first Title III Strengthening Institutions grant, and since then has successfully completed two other Title III projects. All three of these grants were successful in improving college operations, or expanding program offerings. In 2001 the first successful TRIO Student Support Services grant provided NCC with 

the resources to provide additional resources to first-generation (approximately 30% of the student population) or low-income students. This grant has been refunded three times since the original project, and the college community is looking forward to continuing this work. Other grants from federal, state and local governments, foundations and private groups have built facilities, provided scholarships, and generally expanded the services available to NCC students.

During this time NCC also put additional efforts into the NCC Foundation which has conducted several capital fund drives, and continues to partner with the college to provide resources for scholarships, programming and buildings. In 1996 the foundation had total assets of $192,628. By 2003 that amount had grown to $1,490, 338 and at the end of 2013 the amount grew to $3,700,000. Since 2006-07, NCC has awarded 1,984 scholarships totally nearly $1.2 million, an average of $171,162 each academic year. Between 2006-07 and 2012-13 the number of scholarships awarded increased by 76.5%. 


Assessment has been a process of growth for Northwest Iowa Community College, as it has been with all of higher education. The challenge has been to understand, embrace, and facilitate meaningful assessment. This is a journey, not a destination, for any college, and NCC has traveled far in the past decade. Currently, assessment is systematic and well documented. Faculty and staff now see assessment as something useful, not just another regulation to meet. Finally, data is being used to make informed decisions about changing and improving instruction. The college has come very far in the assessment process, and planning to improve assessment strategies is ongoing. 

Student Life

The desire to improve student life at NCC has been the topic of many planning sessions and has seen some fruition. First, the Lifelong Learning and Recreation Center (LLRC) opened in 2011 for students, staff and the community. In 2004 the students and staff collaborated to choose school colors (red and silver), and then in 2011 a college mascot was selected. NCC’s mascot is a mountain lion named Thunder. Student activities, clubs, organizations have proliferated on campus and along with expanded campus living quarters, the remodeled Campus Store, enhanced staff oversight and programming, and expanded off campus learning opportunities have all enhanced the life of students at NCC.

The Future: Accountability, Completion, and Diversity

Northwest Iowa Community College is poised to face the challenges of the next decade. The planning processes, under the leadership of the college president, Dr. Alethea Stubbe, demonstrate the understanding that NCC has of the near future for the institution. The trend statements, strategic initiatives, and goals are designed to prepare NCC to be even more successful in 2020.